Arab grocer and family arrested in Chicago suburb
Store owners cries racism; neighbors say he is an “unsanitary” grocer
By Ray Hanania — (Oak Lawn, Illinois) While the nation is still reeling from a racial confrontation between a Black professor, a White Cambridge cop and President Obama, a food-store owner in the Chicago suburb of Oak Lawn alleges village inspectors and police shut him down over the past two years because he is a Muslim and an Arab. Naim Massad thought he had a perfect location to open his Middle Eastern grocery store in June 2007 in huge strip mall at 10333 S. Central Avenue in Oak Lawn, Illinois. The strip mall also includes a music store, a beef store, laundromat, liquor store, and a restaurant with a comedy club and bar. Officials in Oak Lawn confirmed they were shocked at what has transpired over the course of two years which on July 16, 2009 resulted in Massad, his wife, and one of their three under-aged children being arrested, handcuffed and jailed. The arrest was ordered by a health inspector who charged Massad’s store violated several village health codes.
Health Inspector Jeanne Foody Galzin insisted the issue was about “protecting the public” and her allegations ranged from Massad serving “out of date” baby formula to improperly labeled meats.
Oak Lawn’s Mayor Dave Heilmann and Police Chief William Villanova launched an internal investigation into the incident and intervened to insure that Massad’s compliance with village codes resulted in his store reopening immediately.
The store re-opened July 31, but not without more complaints from Galzin, who has served in her post nearly 20 years> Galzin said ordering someone to jail is something she does on an average of “once a year.”
But the war had many people scratching their head. Was it really about protecting the public health or other issues ranging from the growth of the Arab population in Oak Lawn to internal strip mall business rivalries.
Although there are several Arab owned businesses in Oak Lawn, Massad’s grocery store is one of the more prominent ones and is located in the heart of Oak Lawn’s predominantly White community. Two other Arab grocery stores are located near the village’s borders.
VILLAGE HARASSMENT STEPS UP
Although Massad had applied for a village license in June 2007, he quickly discovered the village was in no hurry to allow him to open. In fact, he said, weekly for nine months, the village and Massad played a cat-and-mouse game with several inspectors, including Galzin. Massad was repeatedly issued code violations and even after correcting them he was always given new complaints. Galzin said he failed to present a proper business plan.
Despite the harassment and repeated license denials, Massad refused to surrender, paying each month’s rent and telling customers he will open. The village relented, finally granting an operating license in February 2008.
Massad Grocery officially opened on March 4. A typical Middle East grocery store, it has several rows of canned and bagged shelved food products, a front register, a freezer for pops, milks and liquids, a deli section for cold cuts and meats, and a partially hidden large back room, with two bathrooms. He ran the store with his wife, three sons aged 13, 15, and 17 and a heavy Middle Eastern accent.
On June 26, 53 days later, Galzin re-entered the store and ordered all of Massad’s customers to leave the property immediately. She declared the store in violation of village code. Again. Someone complained that an employee was “eating food” inside the store. “If they want to eat, have them leave the premises,” Massad said he was told. After being closed 24 hours and agreeing not to allow his children to eat food in the back of the store, Massad Grocery was again allowed to re-open.
Everything seemed to be going fine. Or maybe the village ran out of excuses to shut Massad’s American Dream down again. But that changed last month.
AMERICAN DREAM COMES TO SHATTERING HALT
On July 13, 2009, the village’s fixation with Massad heated up, and with ferocious consequences.
Massad explained his story in accented English with the help of Mansour Tadros, the publisher of one of Chicago’s American Arab newspapers, al-Mustaqbal (The Future News). He said he was told by a second inspector, Sheila Hayes Lehp that the strip mall had a sewage problem. Massad said the village had to shut his store for health reasons until the alleged sewage problems could be repaired by a contractor.
Massad’s store has a drainage pipe under the sink and Galzin insisted that is the problem. She said the music store next door shut down on its own and not on orders of the village. But no other stores were closed as a result of the sewage problems, Galzin confirmed.
On July 14, the contractor gave Massad a copy of his report showing the drainage repairs were completed. Galzin had told Massad that if the repairs were made, he could reopen. Following her instructions and with the contractor’s report in hand, Massad re-opened at lunchtime. Minutes later, one of the liquor store’s owners or employees came to the store and told Massad that “the village” asked him to see if Massad’s store was open. Minutes later, the mall was surrounded by five fire trucks from the Oak Lawn Fire Department. “He opened without my permission,” Galzin said, confirming she asked someone from the liquor store to check on his store for her.
Galzin insisted she smelled smoke and ordered all of Massad’s customers to leave the store. Firemen reported they could not smell any smoke but Galzin reportedly ordered the firemen to break into a small vacant storefront located just south of Massad’s store. They shattered the front glass entrance and destroyed the vacant stores’ steel door in the alley.
When no smoke or fire was found, Galzin, according to Massad, “laughed” and without entering his store, handed him a new list of code violations he was ordered to correct before re-opening. Galzin said that Massad had “burned incense” causing the “smoke.”
On July 15, the next morning, Massad called Galzin saying he corrected the violations. But she was in no hurry to return to his store. She said she was at a meeting.
By lunch time, as Massad and his family waited, a truck delivered two pallets of canned food. Massad said he couldn’t put the food in his store but suggested they put it in the vacated store next door to await the village’s okay to open.
The police report, which includes “supplemental” arrest details filed 8 days after the fact and with date errors and excludes Massad’s version of the story, notes that at 1:30 pm, Music Store (10329 S. Central) owner Pat Bartell called the village to report unknown individuals had entered Massad’s store. Massad said these were his family members.
FAMILY ARRESTED AND JAILED ON CODE VIOLATION
According to the police report, at 2:45, all hell broke loose and Massad’s American Dream was shattered again. Galzin returned, this time accompanied by an unprecedented four police squad cars with lights and sirens blazing.
“At Jeanne Galzin’s request,” the police report details, Massad was handcuffed and charged with the crime of “storing food in an unsanitary condition.”
When the son, Abed Massad, asked why his father was being arrested and abused, Village Police Office M. Lupa pushed Abed and then arrested and handcuffed him too. Abed was charged with “battery.” Although the police report notes there was a scuffle in getting into the police car, the family claims Lupa slammed the 17 year old boy, Abed, against the car.
When Massad’s wife, Susan, asked Galzin why she would order such outrageous abuse of police authority, and put her hand on Galzin’s shoulder, Galzin ordered police to arrest her. Susan Massad was arrested, handcuffed and charged with battery, too. “She was upset and you can never touch an officer. It wasn’t [that] I was mad at her,” Galzin said.
The Massad’s counter that Lupa and Galzin repeatedly made racist comments about their Arab heritage, charges not included in the police report. They said the sanitation claims were exaggerated. They deny the battery charges and counter they were “intentionally provoked” by Lupa and Galzin.
All three were taken to the Oak Lawn police department where they were booked, humiliated, harassed and held in a lockup until a family friend could post a bail.
But things got worse. By the time the family returned to the mall to retrieve their cars at 8 pm, they discovered Galzin had ordered the store’s windows be boarded and a new lock placed on the doors.
MAYOR & POLICE CHIEF ACT QUICKLY TO PROTECT RIGHTS
“One car was a supervisor which wouldn’t be unusual in a situation like this. Why three more squads arrived, simply because there was an issue with the license or closing, I cannot answer at this time. It’s under investigation,” Villanova said. “I’m looking in to it.”
Villanova said it would “not be proper procedure” for police to arrest a store owner simply for building code violations, even if the violations were alleged to have been repeated.
“I am like anyone else. I want my people to be as professional as they can be. If we have made a mistake, we will correct it. The issue here must be done completely and correctly and we have to follow our procedure,” Villanova insisted.
Villanova said he asked Massad to provide his side of the story.
Although Massad’s store finally did reopen, and village officials promised to monitor the situation there, American Arab leaders in Oak Lawn said they are living in fear.
A handwritten sign posted inside the front glass door of the music store next door made it clear how deep the hatred and anger is at 103rd and Central Avenue: “Due to damage done from next door [hand drawn arrow points to Massad’s store] We are forced to close because of unsanitary conditions.”
(A spokesperson for the music store owner insisted that despite her anger at Massad and her role in contacting the village, it had nothing to do with his Arab race.)
(Originally published in the Southwest News-Herald Newspaper, August 7, 2009)
Health Inspector Jeanne Foody Galzin
Galzin said she has been an inspector for 20 years and has a responsibility “to protect the health and well-being of the public.”
She said that she has nothing personal against the Massad’s and said she is very familiar with many Arabs in the community.
As for the unprecedented step of having Massad arrested, Galzin insisted, “I have had people arrested for a variety of different things. Usually one or two a year for different ordinance violations that are excessive or a threat to the health and safety of the community. Certain extenuating circumstances.”
She said Massad has been an persistent problem: “We had continuing problems with him opening without an inspection and in a condition in which his food was not being stored in a healthy manner. The fact the food delivery was put in a place where it was not authorized. It’s wrong.”
Galzin said Massad has issues with the “handling of meat. Nothing was labeled. Large cuts of meat were wrapped with no freshness date. No manufacturing dates. Improperly wrapped. That’s not safe for anybody. There was out-of-date baby formula. I can’t let any babies get botulism. It’s a serious offense.”
As for delaying the opening nine months, Galzin insisted, “The only reason he never opened was he never presented a plan. There is no personal issue here. My job is to protected the community no matter who it is. He has meat we don’t know where it is from. No matter what I do he was just not willing to listen.”
She said that only two months ago, she stepped in to order the closure of Joseph’s Market at 95th and Cicero. “It was open one month. It had out of date frozen products. It was closed. … Mr. Massad did a lot of work in order to get it into compliance and that is why he is reopened,” she said.
Galzin did seem to ridicule Massad’s store saying that she doubted his store is considered significant, asking sarcastically, “He thinks he is a major player? No way.”
She concluded, “Being a health inspector is not the most popular thing to be. I am not a prom queen and probably I wouldn’t win. My job is to protect no matter what your ethnicity.”
(Originally published in the Southwest News-Herald Newspaper, August 7, 2009)
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